Happy Belated Birthday, America! I meant to wish you a happy birthday on your actual birthday, but instead I got drunk in the middle of the day and ate too many hot dogs. In your honor, of course. Sorry! Here’s a picture of Captain America punching Hitler!
This picture comes from Hitler Getting Punched, a blog replete with pictures of Hitler getting punched, hit, kicked, and pile-driven by everyone from Captain America to MC Hammer. It’s pretty great.
But while we’re talking about Cap, yesterday I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and someone had posted a picture of Captain America staring intently while holding his shield. The picture was captioned: “Here’s to America, the only country that idolizes comic book characters.” My reaction was basically:
While we do have a unique relationship with our comic book heroes, idolizing Superman, Spiderman, Batman, etc., in a way that really makes them more legends than ordinary fictional characters, we’re
far from the only country which uses popular graphic storytelling in the construction of its identity.
The first counter-example to pop into my head (and Saika’s, for that matter) was Asterix, The Gaul. The comic, in case you don’t know, is about a Gallic warrior, a small man, but an excellent tactician who gains super-strength when he drinks a druid-brewed potion. He uses this strength to resist Roman occupation and go on adventures all throughout Europe (his upcoming adventure, which will be published on October 24th, 2013, will take him all the way to Scotland). The character’s influence on French popular culture is self-evident. The title’s original 34-volume run lasted fifty years (1959-2010), continuing through the death of its original writer because of popular demand. The character has been used in Olympic campaigns and even has a satellite named after him. He has come to embody the cultural concept of savoir-faire, that is, to be situationally adroit, and his series has sold upwards of 300 million comics worldwide. The release of the next book is one of the world’s most anticipated.
In terms of comic books and national identity, you wouldn’t go wrong checking out Captain Canuck, or the even cooler Nelvana of the Northern Lights, who was one of the first female comic book heroes, debuting back in 1941 ahead of Wonder Woman by a matter of months. Her name, powers, and deeds of derring-do reference the legends of indigenous Canadians, so she’s as Canadian a superhero as we’re likely to encounter. She’s also the namesake of Nelvana Limited, a Canadian entertainment company with numerous familiar franchises to their name.
It’s easy to miss, if you think of them solely as idle diversions, but comic books are just one of the many art forms we use to work out our national identity and how we relate to the issues and problems we face as a society. Now that we’ve adopted comics as an art form, it seems the world simply will not do without them.